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FIRST-PERSON: Things, they are a-changin’

EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the last in a series of four columns about emerging young leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention by Bob Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, and Ed Stetzer, NAMB’s director of research.

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–I’ve noticed in ministry –- in fact, in life –- that one thing you can always count on is the certainty of change.

I went to seminary in the early 1970s. I had journeyed through the revolutionary ’60s on a state campus, watched the lock-out of the administration building, heard about the campus bra-burning, and met Christ through a campus ministry. Christ changed everything.

Then came marriage and my first trip to Texas for seminary — and entrance into vocational ministry as a Southern Baptist pastor. Before long, like many young theologs, I found the opportunity to preach at multiple SBC churches across several states as a student evangelist. And I noticed a curious phenomenon — every church bulletin, order of service, and frankly, many of the facilities were strangely similar. It was as though if I’d seen one, I’d seen them all.

We all tended to look alike back then. SBC historian Judson Allen described it this way in the 1958 edition of the Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists:

“Southern Baptist tends to remain a Southern Baptist, whether he lives in Virginia, Georgia, California, Ohio, or Montana. He needs not easily adjust to a church fellowship in which methods and practices are different from those to which he has been conditioned. Churches which are methodologically different are automatically suspect.”

That was then. This is now. What a change it is.

Today there are more innovative approaches to doing church than plot twists on FOX’s “24.” While Scripture remains central and non-negotiable, the styles are as broad as the range of contestants on “American Idol.” Contemporary and traditional, homogenous and multi-racial, suburban and inner-city, big screen and no screen, one campus and satellite campuses, choirs and praise bands, bulletins and PowerPoint presentations. Travel from one church to another these days, and you find the results of innovation in the most amazing of places.

Have you noticed that innovation is not merely a function of age? It’s a mind set. Many young leaders have it, but older leaders can match them idea for idea. Coloring outside the lines to speak to the culture in which you are placed is what biblical innovation is all about. When younger leaders and more mature leaders mix their ideas, it can be electric. So let’s work at doing it more. As Ed Stetzer mentioned in the second column of this series, we need to be thinking together about the biblical basis of innovation for the future of our churches.

Today’s rising young SBC leaders are coming not only in all kinds of shapes, sizes and backgrounds, but all races as well. Last year saw Southern Baptists record the largest number of new churches of any year in our history — and 59 percent were ethnic and African American! Our biblical diversity is increasing each year, and that’s good news.

Consider second-generation Hispanic pastor Bob Gomez who, in partnership with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, has started a movement of biblically based house churches in Texas that are reaching people no church was touching. Or Jackie Flake, an African-American who is a part of the pastoral core at East Side Baptist in Ft. Smith, Ark., which is a multi-cultural, multi-generational congregation. Then there is Ted Baird, who came from an international ministry to plant a church in an upscale suburb of Phoenix. Today it runs more than 1000 weekly. And don’t forget Darrin Patrick of The Journey Church in St. Louis which shares facilities with Hanley Road Baptist Church and has grown from 30 to more than 600 in just over two years.

Sort of sounds like the crowd before the throne in Revelation 7, doesn’t it? I like that sound, don’t you?

Let’s face it, this ain’t my daddy’s convention — and that’s not all bad!

More about all this at the SBC annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn. Hope to see you there!
Bob Reccord is the president of the North American Mission Board and author of several books.

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  • Robert E. (Bob) Reccord